Learn How to Gain Business Advantage by creating an Inclusive Corporate Culture
Updated: Jan 16
Inclusion unlocks growth opportunities for your business
I will be sharing insights for your personal and organisational change and transformation.
This article will be helpful to you if any of the following reasons resonate:
You are a business leader, manager, entrepreneur or employee with a genuine interest in creating or being part of an inclusive corporate culture.
You are opened-minded and want to understand some of the barriers that prevent organisations from achieving an inclusive corporate culture.
You are frustrated by the vacuous and performative diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in your organisation.
You are genuinely looking for practical solutions to help your organisation evolve and become an inclusive culture.
You want to hear from credible voices with first-hand experience of DEI corporate challenges and ways to overcome them.
You are looking for talking points to take back to your organisation to inspire change.
You are looking for fresh thinking and ideas about creating an inclusive corporate culture.
An introduction to the drivers of corporate culture transformation
About 70% of businesses have a digital transformation strategy or are working on one (Source: Forbes). The changes are to systems and processes to enable efficiency and growth. Equally important is developing an agile-minded and diverse workforce to future-proof the organisation.
In today's employment marketplace, diversity and inclusion yield corporate competitive advantage. Many companies understand this and are moving quickly to address the DEI areas they want to fix in parallel with their business transformation initiatives. Alongside value-based disruptive product innovation, corporate culture transformation (an intensified focus on people/talent and behaviour) is the next wave of disruption. Businesses that want to earn the right to operate in an increasingly diverse global consumer culture must respond accordingly to survive.
Meaningful social and organisational change occurs to appease public outcry against injustice and inequity or protect corporate commercial interests. Similarly, consumer, employee and stakeholder pressure compel organisations to evolve their culture to become more inclusive.
Enterprises face an acute issue of operating organisations that are not inclusive at their core. The #BlacklivesMatter movement helped amplify this by spotlighting the underrepresentation of Black and Brown people at corporate C-Suite levels. To rationalise this unfortunate outcome as mere unconscious bias is to consciously deny the intentionality of oppressive systems and the benefits their gatekeepers enjoy.
Under the surface of well-intentioned equitable corporate statements like, "We stand against racism and oppression in all its forms," lurks less discussed but prevalent corporate inequalities, such as:
performance recognition oversight
performance assessment biases
Inadequate talent development investment
In today's heightened climate of intolerance to prejudice and discrimination, the potential adverse cost to reputation and profit for not adequately tackling these inequities are too great. Especially as it is avoidable by making the necessary and overdue adjustments to corporate culture.
Business transformation is a culture change
Here are three core areas of corporate transformation that will provide the backdrop and broader context to this corporate inclusion conversation. They are products, technology and culture.
Here's a summary of each:
Creating new and optimised products and services:
Building desirable iterative products and services that connect with "green consumers" (those concerned with protecting the environment and the future of humanity). This effort is fundamentally about ethical and sustainable value creation and unlocking new "green" wealth opportunities.
Technology and innovation:
Developing, procuring and installing modernised and cost-effective technology solutions. The aim is to drive operational efficiency, enable data-driven decision-making, and accelerate value creation to meet new customer demands and expectations. The outputs include new and optimised capabilities, tools and processes.
Organisational culture change:
Transforming corporate culture and leveraging the platform of diversity, equity and inclusion—articulated through employee value proposition and talent acquisition strategy. It is also supported through learning and development initiatives, upgraded corporate values, and inclusive leadership behaviours.
What is organisational culture?
Organisational culture is the unwritten, but tangible experiences and interactions expressed through people's behaviour, attitude, values, habits and rituals. The most important word in the last sentence about culture is "unwritten". Culture is codified into an organisation's DNA and expressed consciously and unconsciously through traditions, ceremonies, biases, preferences and inclinations. Simply put, "culture" is an organisation's way of doing things. Hence why the widespread but damaging resistance mantra to organisational change is, "…because we've always done it that way."
Why an inclusive culture is a competitive advantage
Corporate culture exposes an organisation's true identity and nature. It's worth investing in culture and getting it right. There's a strong correlation between an inclusive corporate culture and employee satisfaction, business performance and profitability. According to McKinsey & Company Management Consulting, corporations with ethnic and cultural diversity were 36% more profitable in 2019. Businesses with more than 30% female executives were more likely to outperform companies that were less gender-diverse.
Corporate culture transformation framework™
To change corporate culture requires a systematic approach and inclusive design. My culture transformation framework™ will enable a more inclusive and vibrant organisational construct where everyone can flourish.
The 5 essential activities to creating an inclusive corporate culture are:
Inclusion vision statement
Corporate culture audit
Inclusion by design
Let's explore each one in more detail.
Inclusion vision statement
Before implementing any significant corporate change initiative, defining and articulating the compelling inclusion vision statement is critical. Understanding what good looks like and how to measure it is vital. Envisioning an inclusive future state that motivates the present and future workforce will help create a powerful and dynamic narrative to attract and retain talent.
Every organisation that wants to create an inclusive culture must recognise and acknowledge that some power holders will inadvertently resist it. It would be naive to assume otherwise. After all, corporate culture has been exclusive for hundreds of years, benefitting the privileged minority who monopolise opportunity and power. Many organisations gave little attention to this disparity and inequality until most recently.
Corporations must be bold, transformative, and ambitious to create an inclusive future state to realise the public's vision of a more sustainable, just and equitable society.
To avoid being disingenuous, organisations must confront their deep-rooted prejudices and discriminatory tendencies. They must seek to prevent the temptation to circumvent doing the hard work of building an inclusive culture.
Here are some examples of how some corporations prevent themselves from implementing an inclusive culture strategy:
Prejudice, biases and discrimination
An obvious barrier to effective and meaningful corporate culture transformation is the erroneous attitude and mindset held by some power holders and influencers that the systematically excluded are inherently inferior. This learned prejudice creates biases, informs discriminatory behaviour and perpetuates non-progressive attitudes.
Fear of differences
Another powerful barrier to corporate culture transformation is the fear of the "other" (those that look and act differently). The exclusion of the "other" is a form of perceived self-preservation by the power holders. Until organisations confront their psychology of bias and oppression, they will be unable to make fundamental systemic changes.
Indifference and apathy are the most prevalent and challenging barriers to corporate culture change. Many leaders focus purely on personal ambitions and what they can extract from the system. They pay little attention to those whose labour creates their wealth.
Lastly, many employees within corporations feel powerless to impact their culture. The average employee doesn't see themself as influential enough to make a cultural difference. Instead, they avoid "office politics" and extract what they can from the system before moving on to their next role. The hope is that their next employer will have better corporate culture. This thinking pattern lacks personal accountability.
Without the design and articulation of an inclusive future state with supporting timebound metrics and investment, businesses cannot effectively measure their progress towards it. Nor can they fully expose their current barriers, identify the gaps between the present and future models and create the roadmap necessary towards their desired future state. Without a clear vision of a positive future state, corporate culture change initiatives are doomed to failure.
Corporate culture audit
Most organisations leverage the power of data insights to inform decision making and identify areas to improve. Wilfully acknowledging and recognising one's shortcomings is the first step towards addressing them.
There are no easy answers to eliminating the cliquey and exclusive corporate culture that many experience as the norm. To go beyond data gathering into purposeful action is a real challenge for some companies. Organisations that lack the will to become inclusive and prefer to avoid the hard work necessary for change adopt the following non-progressive behaviours:
They broaden the scope of "inclusion" to avoid a targeted approach that requires prioritisation and accountability. Instead, they approach all inclusion challenges simultaneously and consequently achieve nothing.
They find numerous excuses, lack of budget being a top excuse, to delay beginning the hard work of changing to become more inclusive.
They use intimidation to silence discussion and questions around the lack of progress towards their inclusion objectives.
They indulge in performative lip service and misrepresent token gestures as significant culture transformation (e.g., Black History Month and Pride celebration etc.)
To do nothing and preserve the status quo seems the most attractive solution to corporations with low organisational energy towards corporate culture transformation. However, the companies committed to creating an inclusive culture approach the following themes with a sincere and infectious appetite for change.
Every corporation has a core set of values or guiding principles that they would like to inform their decisions and behaviour. The reality is that corporate values are often vacuous, and they feel more like a marketing necessity than the codification of desirable corporate behaviours.
To illustrate this point, according to Gallup, only 1 in 4 of employees believe in their company's values. Employees do not see their companies' values embodied by senior leadership and middle management. Employees will not adopt corporate values until they see them embedded within business operations. The evidence (or lack thereof) of corporate values appears in its culture. Put another way, within an organisation's culture, is its actual corporate values.
If the corporate culture is rife with dishonesty, deception, ineptitude, and bureaucracy, their professed values of integrity, trust, ingenuity, respect, and simplicity will not be taken seriously.
Each leader must be held accountable to the high standards of their organisation's corporate values. Those values must influence decision making at every level of the organisation to have meaning.
In the next section, we discuss how to begin the journey of transforming corporate culture.
I once heard a great quote that reads, "companies don't change; leaders do." The culture of any organisation is simply an extension of the corporate leadership or senior management team. To transform corporate culture requires the personal transformation of its leadership. I discuss this thoroughly in my book, Purpose-Driven Transformation: The Corporate Leader's Guide to Value Creation and Growth.
To outsource the hard work of corporate culture transformation to a third party is negligent. However, it's advisable to involve an independent organisation to facilitate the work towards the desired future state and coach your organisation through the transformation process, ensuring corporate ownership and accountability. Choose a partner that will challenge you and equip you with the tools to embed new behaviours resulting in enduring inclusive culture transformation.
Here are some practical actions to create an inclusive culture:
Develop organisational leadership competencies that reward empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence to balance the traditional leadership energy of competitiveness and ruthlessness.
Demonstrate fairness in how leaders and managers treat everyone and avoid favouritism.
Protect the systematically excluded employees within your corporation and periodically create opportunities to listen to their feedback.
Extend employment opportunities within your local communities and create talent pipelines that intentionally attract and support those from within the communities you serve.
These actions will help create an authentic corporate culture rooted in and supported by its employees and community. It will give it relevance, purpose and real value.
Inclusion by design
At this stage, you have defined your inclusion vision statement. You have executed your corporate culture audit and evolved your core business values. All your leaders are modelling your corporate values through their behaviour. Ensure that every facet of your organisation understands what good leadership looks like and how to model it.
Here are some tips to achieve this. I will speak more about this soon.
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Develop your inclusion design principles to guide and govern your corporate initiatives. For example, your inclusion guiding principles should inform how new teams are formed. They should be reflected within the talent acquisition strategy, evidenced in the promotion metrics, emphasised in the skills and competencies framework and learning and development plans.
Periodically report back to the business progress against the inclusion metrics and the risks and solutions to mitigate identified barriers to progress.
Make an affirmative commitment to your employees, customers and shareholders about your inclusion performance targets and the self-imposed penalties of not achieving your goals. All too often, inclusion goals are arbitrary, with long timelines and a lack of accountability and consequences for failing to achieve them.
Partner with credible third-party culture transformation companies that are intellectually, emotionally and culturally invested in creating a better world for everyone. Avoid the allure of using familiar resources that don't have any credible evidence of helping to establish the culture change you desperately need for your organisation.
Create a safe space for your employees to learn about their biases and prejudices. Equip and encourage them to challenge the status quo without fear of reprisal.
The responsibility for corporate culture transformation rightly sits disproportionately on leadership. However, leaders require total organisational support to properly embed their inclusion values across all the levels within the business. For this reason, every employee has an ethical responsibility to contribute towards an inclusive culture that makes everyone feel safe and can thrive. Put another way for those motivated by financial metrics, your organisation is more likely to flourish and outperform its competitors if your culture is more inclusive.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "Be the change that you wish to see in the world."
Thank you for reading this article. I welcome your comment and feedback!
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The Intelligent Change Management Guide: How to Successfully Lead and Implement Change in Your Organisation. Order your copy now on Amazon!
Purpose-Driven Transformation: The Corporate Leader's Guide to Value Creation and Growth. Order your copy now on Amazon!